It was the worst kept secret in hockey; Todd McLellan has officially been named the 19th head coach (not the 14th) of the Edmonton Oilers. He’s also the seventh man to hold have that job title in the last six years, one month, and five days; following in the footsteps of Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, and Todd Nelson. Yes, there’s been a lot of turnover behind the Oilers bench in recent years, hopefully McLellan bring some stability to the job.
That it took so long for this hire to be made official was probably a good thing. Not only did it mean that Canada was still moving along at the World Championship, but also because it’s given me time to try and wrap my head around the idea of the good things happening with the Oilers, something that I’m not at all accustomed to. Not even two months ago I wrote this when contemplating who might be the Oilers next head coach:
So what are the odds that a rock star head coaching candidate would choose the Oilers this spring/summer? Probably not great. If every NHL team in need of a coach was knocking on your door, would you choose the one that's equal parts tire fire and three-ring circus? If the offer came with a dump truck full of cash (and it would absolutely have to), I can't say that they wouldn't consider it, but it's hard to imagine someone in a position to choose their employer choosing the Oilers right now. We already know that Edmonton isn't a desired location for players, there's no reason to think that coaches view the team in a different light. Of course if it happened I'd be absolutely thrilled, I just won't be holding my breath.
And yet here we are two months later with one of the most desired coaches available now the head coach of the Oilers. The Conference Finals are still being played and already more has happened during the Oilers offseason that I expected, or even dared hope for.
Imagine you’d spent the last six weeks in a coma and woke up today. If I told you all that went down, it would burn off both your ears. Another draft lottery win; a new president and general manager; and now a new head coach, one with no ties to the organization and a lengthy history of success too (let’s not forget the new NDP majority government either). You wouldn’t believe me if I told you all of that. Hell, I’ve been living through it and I barely believe it.
Because it’s impossible for Oilers fans to unanimously love anything, some will ask why the team never officially contacted Mike Babcock about bringing his talents to the City of Champions. If I had to guess, I’d say that Peter Chiarelli did get in touch with Babcock unofficially and received a polite "thanks, but no thanks" as a response, in which case McLellan isn’t a bad runner-up prize.
And others will worry about McLellan’s inability to get the Sharks over the hump in the playoffs. In seven seasons, McLellan coach the Sharks to six playoff appearances, three division titles, and one Presidents’ Trophy, but was never able to steer them into the Stanley Cup Finals. That lack of playoff success isn’t a completely unreasonable concern, but strange things happen in a playoff series, goalies get hot, shooters run cold, and there isn’t much a coach can do about it. I don’t recall him making a lot of questionable decisions in recent playoff appearances so I tend to lean more towards bad luck rather than bad playoff coach.
From where I sit McLellan is an excellent hire, one that I’m absolutely thrilled with. Just thinking about what he can do with the Oilers power play puts a smile on my face, and should put a lot of puck in the back of the net. But with the season still five months away there will be plenty of time to break exactly down what this hire means for the Oilers and what changes we can expect to see on the ice when the puck drops on the 2015/16 season. So for today, I’m going to just sit back and try to understand this world we now live in, one where the Oilers seem to be headed in the right direction.